A snow-covered roof bordered with long, glistening icicles may seem like something from a winter fairy-tale. However, as beautiful as those icicles are, you truly don't want them forming on your roof. Large ice formations on the edge of the roof are known as ice dams, and they can lead to an array of roofing troubles including leaks, rot, and bent gutters. 

Why are ice dams so troublesome, and what can you do to keep them away? Read on to find out.

How Do Ice Dams Form?
To understand how to prevent ice dams, you must first understand how they form. Ice dams begin forming after there is snowfall. Heat escaping from the roof melts some of the snow. Usually, the peak of the roof is warmest because warm air rises to the highest point in the attic and then seeps out the roof peak.
When water from the peak trickles down toward the cooler edges of the roof, it re-freezes forming an ice dam. With continuous freeze-thaw cycles and more snow, the ice dams continue to grow larger. 

How Do Ice Dams Cause Damage?
Water is unique in that, unlike most substances, it expands as it freezes. Therefore, if just a little bit of water seeps under a shingle's edge and then freezes, it pries that shingle away from the roof's surface. This type of damage is extensive when you have ice dams. Once a shingle has been loosened and starts to peel, leaks are likely.
Ice dams also continuously expose your shingles to moisture. Even though shingles are made to withstand the harsh outdoor elements, this continuous exposure to moisture causes them to deteriorate prematurely. The shingles may lose extra granules and become increasingly prone to rot. 
Ice dams tend to extend into the gutters. As the water freezes, it expands and pushes the edges of the gutters outward. Bent gutters are neither attractive or effective at shuttling water away from your roof.

How Can You Prevent Ice Dams?
The secret to preventing ice dams, in a long-term sense, is keeping your roof cool. If you keep your roof cool, the snow at the peak won't melt, and there won't be any water to worry about re-freezing.
Proper attic insulation is the secret to a cool roof. Many homes don't have enough insulation in the attic. If you only have one layer of insulation, which is usually the case, then you should add a second layer. If your insulation is compacted, discolored, or aged, then replace it with entirely new insulation for a warmer home and a cooler roof.
Also, make sure your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans do not discharge into the attic. If they do, the heat they release will warm your roof and perpetuate ice dams. Before winter begins, have the vents re-directed to protect your roof. Check any holes or gaps around pipes and cords as well; plug these holes to keep heat from seeping into your attic and out through the roof.

What Can You Do About Existing Ice Dams?
If you already have large ice dams on your roof, there is an easy way to get rid of them. Fill a few pairs of old pantyhose with ice melter. Lay the hose on the ice dam so they rest perpendicular to the gutter. Over a period of several days, the ice melter will melt the ice dam, and the water will drain into the gutter. 
Once the ice dams are gone, make sure you improve your attic insulation for a long-term solution that will prevent ice dams from coming back. 
If you've been struggling with ice dams or believe they have caused damage to your roof, contact Armstrong Enterprises, Inc. We'll come inspect your roof and make personalized recommendations for improvement.